A moment of silence for Dwight’s dick. Perhaps the damage isn’t irrevocable; perhaps, with time and attention, he can be whole again. But for right now, the agony must be intense, made even more so by the fact that, yet again, the Saviors have had the drop on our heroes, and yet again, they have managed to fumble a golden opportunity to take control of the situation. At least this time they managed to kill someone, which is a step up from previous efforts, but this is still an embarrassing display of force. The group’s threat level lies somewhere between Cobra Commander and that kid on the school bus who liked to hit the back of your head when you were reading and then pretend he didn’t know what you complaining about. Annoying, but not, y’know, a concern.
Still, Dwight did kill Dr. Denise, and that’s a tragedy. She’s the only Alexandrian left apart from Aaron (who we hardly ever see) whose death would seriously register at this point. Which means she sat in the sweet spot, narratively speaking, for a sacrifice—someone whose loss would have more meaning than “Oh, huh,” but wouldn’t unbalance the show as much as, say, Carol or Glenn getting taken out might. With only a couple episodes left before the season finale, it’s time for a surprise to hold our interest, but nothing out and out devastating. Denise’s murder helps raise the stakes, even as Dwight and the general incompetence of those under his command tore them back down.
I’ll miss her, though. Merritt Wever was visibly human in a way that’s rare for this show, even among its strongest performers. Carol and Morgan and Michonne and the others have become more or less iconic; shaded and nuanced in their way, but still with personalities you could recognize in silhouette. Denise was something subtler and more down to earth, a nice person with a past doing her best to make sense of an insane and merciless world. “Twice As Far” gives us a glimpse into her troubled youth, and an understanding of what might drive her to make some pretty stupid choices. And then she dies.
Take this as a reminder, then, that giving big speeches trying to reach people’s common humanity is this show’s version of “I’ve only got two days left to retirement.” Denise’s arc over the course of the hour, as she challenges herself again and again to face the horrors of the modern world, is the sort of arc which provides a perfect closing note in retrospect. She struggles, she balks, she does dumb things for reasons that almost make sense—and then, just when it seems the danger has passed, and she’s proven whatever she needed to prove to herself, tragedy strikes. Because that’s how this reality works. Personal growth is great and all, but it won’t protect you.
The fact that Eugene goes through a similar arc, is actually even more of an idiot about it and still manages to live through everything, really just drives home how hideously random this all is. Or maybe there’s a subtle suggestion that decency and openness, as opposed to Eugene’s nebbishy obsession, is a doomed prospect, I dunno. Regardless, after getting into a fight with Abraham over his ability to survive on his own, Eugene gets captured by Dwight and the Saviors; stuck in a seemingly hopeless hostage situation, he comes up with the plan of distracting the others with Abraham’s hidden presence and then biting Dwight. On the dick.
It’s a novel solution, and that novelty helps to at least partially distract from the hilarity of watching the Saviors once again bungle things. I don’t want to keep harping on this, but the show seems to be going out of its way to make us confident of our heroes’ ability to deal with these creeps; and while I’d be willing to bet this is in service of setting up some painful lesson-learning down the road, the writers have done far too good a job of lowering our expectations. The danger is less a growing sense of impending doom than it is a “Huh, I wonder what secondary character will get bumped off this week” kind of thing. And this is the first time they’ve managed to take out a meaningful casualty! After the mess with the quarry zombies at the start of the season, the Saviors are practically a dawdle.
We don’t necessarily need the tension of a new threat to keep going, of course. The show often does its best work when it’s dealing with moment-to-moment concerns. The big set-pieces (including and maybe especially the stuff inspired by the comics) have a tendency to disappoint, generally thanks to pacing or scripts that can’t quite pin down an idea. But the little stuff can be wonderful, moments in which the actors are allowed to breathe and the situation is given a chance to be more than just a device for shocks and gore.
Eugene and Denise’s stories work well enough this week. The hints we get about Denise’s history make it that much more frustrating (in a good way) when she dies; here was someone I wouldn’t have minded knowing more about. And while Eugene’s behavior is, at worst, infuriating, there’s something oddly endearing about a character so determined to improve himself that he’ll risk everything to do it, up to and including his own neck. And the fact that he manages to win the day balances out Denise’s loss a little. Who knows how much longer Eugene will last (it kind of strains credibility that he’s even lasted this long), but at least he got a win.
Then there’s Carol, who ends the hour with the decision to leave Alexandria because she can’t stand killing anymore. This arc still feels like we’re missing a episode somewhere. Last week helped to fill in the blanks, but there’s a rushed, forced quality to all this, up to and including the end of her relationship with Tobin; it’s a pairing that lasted bare minutes of screen time, never made that much sense, and then suddenly it’s supposed to matter that it’s ending?
Yes, losing to Denise to a man Daryl could have (and maybe should have) killed earlier is a harsh lesson, and if Carol really is unwilling to kill, there’s some sense in her retreating. But after all the work she’s done at Alexandria, all the time she’s spent putting on the housewife face and then slowly remembering the parts of her old life she legitimately loved, this is an extreme decision, one that reeks of piece movement plotting for later developments. Carol is capable of strong, tough decisions, but this decision is the exact opposite of the calculated control she’s demonstrated for so long. Which, of course, may be the point; she’s breaking down, and this is the best way she can think of to protect herself. But that sort of transition needs to be earned, and I’m not sure it has been here. It plays too much like all of The Walking Dead’s worst character moments: random shifting until the carnage starts.
- Morgan’s cell is finished. I wonder if he’ll ever get a chance to use it.
- Rosita is hooking up with Spenser. I think that’s his name, anyway.
- The cold open was nicely done, showing the passing of time through the repetition of certain key scenes.
- “I’m a survivor.” “Keep telling yourself that.” “I’ve changed, adapted. I’ve become a survivor.”
- “You know how to bite a dick, and I mean that with the utmost respect.”
- Abraham and Sasha are hooking up now. Neat.
- “I can’t love anyone because I can’t kill for anyone.” This, from Carol, would be a far more meaningful line if her relationship with Tobin meant anything at all. Or if she hadn’t just murdered a bunch of people last week.